Shasta Grant

The mother’s wet sneakers clanged inside the dryer of the fourth floor hallway. Aurelia, at ten years old, was two years older than the girl with white blonde hair. Despite what everyone half-heartedly told Aurelia that afternoon, she knew it was her fault.

Lagoon Lake Resort. Aurelia’s mother had said it was a ridiculous name for a resort; she imagined scantily clad men and women traipsing around pools with alcoholic beverages in their hands. Fruity drinks with names like Sex on the Beach and Orgasm. Drinks with umbrellas in the glasses. The year before, Uncle Steve and Aunt Meryl announced they had bought a time-share. It was just the sort of thing they would do, Aurelia’s mother said. “Why spend all that money when you only own it for a week? Why can’t they just stay in a motel like normal people?” she asked. They wanted to take Aurelia with them. “Beth would really love a playmate this time,” Aunt Meryl said. Reluctantly, Aurelia’s mother had allowed her to go to the resort. “It’s just for one week,” Aunt Meryl said. “And we’ll keep a close eye on her.”

Aurelia had never been in an indoor pool before. Uncle Steve laughed, “She’s so sheltered.” Aunt Meryl said, “And look at her go, she’s like a little fish.” For the last five nights they had to plead with her to get out of the pool. “Just one more minute!” Aurelia would say, sliding under the water again.

She found the towheaded girl on her first day at Lagoon Lake Resort; they were both sunbathing on the children’s deck, reading Baby-Sitters Club books. On the third day, they swapped books, having finished their own. Aurelia’s cousin Beth, three years older than Aurelia, promptly ditched Aurelia when they arrived at the resort. Beth made her way over to the girls with bikinis, the girls who caught the attention of the teenage boys horsing around in the pool. Aurelia wished her mother would let her wear a bikini instead of her pink one-piece suit; she was too old for swimsuits with ruffles. “Young ladies should cover up,” her mother had said. “Modesty is a virtue.”

The sneakers still knocked around in the dryer. As soon as they were dry, the girl’s family would leave. Aurelia sat on the living room floor while Beth brushed her hair. The room was silent except for Aunt Meryl, who was talking on the phone in a hushed voice with Aurelia’s mother. The blonde girl’s father walked down the hallway, past the open door of Uncle Steve and Aunt Meryl’s time-share apartment, carrying a suitcase.

Aurelia tasted the regret in her mouth, a mixture of bubblegum and pee. When she was four, she had surgery to remove her tonsils. Her earliest memory was of the nurse asking her whether she wanted bubblegum, grape or cherry flavored gas. Aurelia said bubblegum and as soon as the word came out of her mouth, the nurse pushed the mask to her face but Aurelia had changed her mind. Grape! I want grape! It was too late, she was already inhaling the bubblegum piss smell and she couldn’t remember anything else from that time except all the Jell-O she ate the next day.

Beth pulled the brush roughly through Aurelia’s hair. She closed her eyes and imagined the bubblegum anesthetic washing over her.

Aurelia worried about her mother, home alone, but she didn’t want to talk to her just yet. Two years earlier, her father had skipped out on them, along with any alimony or child support payments. She knew Uncle Steve and Aunt Meryl helped out and that her mother hated it but couldn’t afford to refuse. Uncle Steve would pass checks to her mother, sliding them across the kitchen counter, and Aurelia would pretend not to see. Sometimes Aunt Meryl would deliver a trunk full of groceries. For weeks after, they would eat strange foods like hummus and quinoa.

“I hate to say it, but she’s always been the kind of kid who gets other kids in trouble,” Aunt Meryl said. She motioned for Aurelia to come to the phone, her bangle bracelets jingling against each other. Aunt Meryl wore caftans and tunics at the resort; Uncle Steve wore shorts with embroidered anchors or whales. They both slathered on baby oil and after only a few days were deeply bronzed.

Aurelia stood, the hairbrush stuck in her hair. She tugged at it, but her hair was knotted into the round brush and would not break free. Beth shrugged, as if to say she was sorry but what could she do about it. Aurelia took the phone from her aunt and pressed it to her ear, she threaded a finger through the cord.


“Well, I just can’t believe this. I don’t even know what to say. I’ve told Aunt Meryl that they are to bring you home first thing in the morning. I never should have let you go to a God-forsaken resort anyway. What kinds of people go to resorts? Not us. Not you. I want you home. This is the kind of thing that happens when I let you out of my sight. This is the kind of thing that happens when people drink alcohol and wear skimpy bathing suits. Do you hear me?”

Aurelia pulled at the hairbrush again, wondering if Beth tangled her hair on purpose. Aurelia wanted to stay at the resort; she liked it there but wouldn’t dare tell her mother that. She liked the perfectly aligned rows of chaise lounges along the pools and the lake. She liked the tennis courts, even though she didn’t know how to play. At five o’clock every day, Uncle Steve and Aunt Meryl announced it was happy hour and let the girls order virgin cocktails. Aurelia took the umbrellas out of her glasses and saved them, even though Uncle Steve laughed at her.

Aunt Meryl had given the thirty-minute notice before lunch, before Aurelia had to get out of the pool. Just then, Aurelia saw her blonde friend and said, “Come swim with me! Hurry before I have to eat lunch!” The girl, whose parents had forbidden her from swimming in the deep end, waved back and jumped into the deep end of the pool, next to Aurelia. While she was in the air, in the moment before she crashed into the water, Aurelia asked, “Where are your swimmies?”

The girl’s head bubbled up from the water. “I don’t need them anymore!”

Her bare arms, which, for a minute, had kept her head above water, flailed as Aurelia watched her slip under the blue-green chlorinated water. Aurelia didn’t know what to do. She asked her friend if she was okay but the girl didn’t answer. Maybe Aurelia should have called for help but instead she swam backwards, away from the girl, towards the line of buoys that marked the shallow end. She watched her friend bob up and down, bubbles forming around her mouth. As fellow swimmers noticed, they too moved away, parting the waters to reveal the girl. The girl’s mother screamed, dropping her glass onto the ground where it shattered, its pink liquid shimmering. She ran across the deck and dove into the pool without bothering to remove her sneakers. The taste of chlorine went up Aurelia’s nose and into her mouth as she glided under the buoys, into the safety of the shallow end.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Beth said, stomping her foot on the kitchen floor. “Why should I be punished? I just want to go for a walk.”

“For Christ’s sake, Beth. Don’t give me a hard time right now. Pack up your things. And take that brush out of Aurelia’s hair,” Aunt Meryl said.

Aurelia yanked more at the brush, her hair twined and snarled around the plastic bristles.

“I’m going to have to cut it out,” Beth said.

Meryl placed a pair of scissors on Beth’s outstretched palm. They cut dully through Aurelia’s hair, leaving a large, spiky tuft on the right side of her head. She fingered the spot, the missing hair. She still had the girl’s Baby-Sitters Club book: Dawn’s Family Feud. They hadn’t swapped back.

Aurelia’s toes had skimmed the bottom of the pool and then the soles of her feet rested flatly. The lifeguard dove into the pool moments after the mother. Together, they pulled the girl out and placed her on the concrete deck. She waited for the girl to cough or spit out water but she didn’t move. Aurelia floated to the steps leading out of the pool, as the lifeguard put his mouth over the girl’s mouth and pumped her chest with his hands. Nobody inside the pool moved. A large, silent crowd gathered to watch. The mother knelt next to the girl; her clothes dripped water onto the concrete. She rocked back and forth on her sneakers, whispering “Come on baby, come on baby.”

The dryer switched off, its cycle complete, and the sneakers inside made one final thud. The only noise left was Aunt Meryl clattering around in the kitchen. Aurelia and Beth sat on the sofa, staring into the empty hallway. Aurelia heard footsteps and then the squeak of the dryer opening. The girl’s mother paused in front of the open door for just a moment, her newly dried sneakers in her hands. She looked at Aurelia, as if she might speak, as if she was just waiting for the words to bubble out of her mouth. Aurelia wanted to shout to the mother: She told me she didn’t need her swimmies anymore!

Aunt Meryl and Uncle Steve were late bringing Aurelia home. Uncle Steve wanted to play nine holes before they left, which turned into eighteen, which turned into cocktails. Drinks with umbrellas in the glasses. Hours late, he parked his Buick in front of Aurelia’s house. Her mother stood behind the screen door, waiting. Running down the walkway, she opened the passenger door and yanked Aurelia from the car.

“Where the hell have you been?” she shouted.

Uncle Steve stepped out of the car. “Sorry we’re a little late. We got a slow start this morning,” he said.

“A little late? I thought you got in a car accident. I’ve been calling hospitals and police stations all afternoon. You should have called.”

Aunt Meryl rolled her window down with the switch of a button and said, “You always do get a little worked up.”

“Worked up? This isn’t worked up! I’ve been worried sick! I don’t want Aurelia to see any of you again. I mean it. This is your fault, you hear me? All of it. You and your fancy resorts and your fancy car. You and your cocktails and your daughter who is thirteen going on thirty! You are responsible for this. Don’t think for a minute that Aurelia’s going to take the blame for this.”

Aurelia’s mother grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her up the walkway. Aurelia turned around to see her cousin’s face pressed against the car window. As the car pulled onto the street, Beth raised her hand and pointed her middle finger up at Aurelia. Uncle Steve tooted the horn of his Buick. Aurelia listened to her mother muttering about unsupervised children and the smell of alcohol on Uncle Steve’s breath. She closed her eyes, reached her hand up to the patch of cut hair, and pictured herself sinking underwater.

Shasta Grant received an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005 and was a 2007 writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook. Her work has appeared in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Freight Stories, Stirring and One for the Road, an anthology.